The National Transportation Safety Board today removed the National Air Traffic Controllers Association as a party to its investigation into the August 8 midair collision of two aircraft over the Hudson River that killed all 9 persons aboard.
Under the Safety Board's procedures, organizations and agencies are invited to participate in NTSB investigations if they can provide technical expertise. At the outset of the investigation, the organizations sign an agreement to abide by NTSB party rules. Among the rules parties agree to is that they will not reveal investigative information being learned through that process, nor publicly comment on it. Parties agree that only the NTSB will release factual information on the progress of the investigation and discuss the progress of the investigation with the public, including the news media.
On Friday, August 14, NATCA convened a press conference to discuss information released earlier that day by the NTSB. The organization was subsequently reminded of its responsibilities as a party to the investigation. This morning, NATCA issued a press release again discussing the information released, and conducted another press conference this afternoon.
Patrick Forrey, NATCA President, was informed today that his organization has been removed as a party to the investigation.
In light of conflicting interpretations of factual information released by the NTSB on Friday, the Board takes this opportunity to address the issue of the Teterboro controller's interaction with the accident airplane in the minutes before the collision:
According to preliminary data provided to the Safety Board by the Federal Aviation Administration, the controller cleared the accident airplane for departure at 11:48:30. The first radar target for the airplane was detected at 11:49:55, at about 300 feet. The controller initiated a non-business-related telephone conversation at 11:50:31. Prior to the Teterboro controller instructing the pilot to contact Newark Tower at 1152:20, there were several aircraft in the Hudson River Class B Exclusion Area in the vicinity of the airplane, some of which were potential traffic conflicts. These were detected by radar and displayed on the controller's scope in Teterboro tower. The Teterboro controller did not alert the airplane pilot to this traffic prior to instructing him to change his radio frequency and contact Newark. The accident helicopter was not visible on the Teterboro controller's radar scope at 1152:20; it did appear on radar 7 seconds later - at approximately 400 feet.
At 1152:54, 20 seconds prior to the collision, the radar data processing system detected a conflict between the accident airplane and the accident helicopter, which set off aural alarms and caused a "conflict alert" indication to appear on the radar displays at both Teterboro and Newark towers. The controller terminated his non-business-related telephone call at 11:53:13. The collision occurred at 11:53:14.
As the Safety Board stated in its media release on Friday, the role that air traffic control might have played in this accident will be determined by the NTSB as the investigation progresses. The Board is waiting for more detailed air traffic control-related data from the Federal Aviation Administration. Any opinions rendered at this time are speculative and premature.
"Although we appreciate the technical expertise our parties provide during the course of an investigation," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said, "it is counterproductive when an organization breaches the party agreement and publicly interprets or comments on factual information generated by that investigation. Our rules are set up precisely to avoid the prospect of each party offering their slant on the information. I regret that we have had to remove NATCA from the investigation."